The other day I posted this thread about inspiration and the importance of crediting the sources of your inspiration… so that your success doesn’t lead to the erasure of the less advantaged artists that inspired you…
I’m now making this a post because I feel like the issue is complicated, and deserves discussion.
It’s a topic that ends up being on my mind a lot since people will tell me how much my work influenced them, inspired them, or led to them making their game, and when it becomes popular that’s not mentioned anywhere. The “what inspired them” reason behind the thing they made often changes when they talk about it publicly. It’s usually guys that do this (sorry not sorry to “make it about that” again, but I’ll keep yelling into the void until it makes a difference).
This isn’t meant to be a call-out post since I don’t think this is intentional. I think the culture’s fixation on the boy genius, and misplaced ideals of originality contribute to this. It’s more of the dumb “dog eat dog” capitalist mode of survival we’re in.
This is an issue of awareness, so it should be discussed.
At a recent event that I attended, someone started telling me how the person that they work for uses a lot of references, and examples, of my work to draw from for themes in a game that they are making. Aside from feeling a slight sting that they didn’t just ask me to do it (hire less advantaged devs who’s work you like!!) but rather asked some guy, I felt a little tired of hearing about it.
This happens very often, and it’s said in a flattering way. It kinda is sometimes, yes. I’m sure we all heard the phrase “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, but I’m starting to see this more as harmful rather than an innocent influence, because of the cultural climate of who this industry prefers and who we champion as original when it comes down to it.
For many reasons that I will get into, my stance is as follows…
If you draw from someone’s work, (by “draw from” I mean inspired by, influenced by, or very directly), and that person is in a less advantaged position than you (socially, economically, or financially), AND you don’t admit where that inspiration came from, you are essentially erasing them from a creative discussion.
This is basically how erasure works.
For example, a talk I gave in big part inspired someone to make a Unity plugin that’s a bit like a DIY animation tool that lets you animate and draw directly into Unity. It became popular, but there is no mention of the influence that led to that. Someone else was inspired by my work and ended up making a very successful game about the internet of old, and now I get equated to that game and told I’m unoriginal (like I’m copying all these things).
I could name a dozen examples that have accumulated over the years in which I do something, it inspires someone to explore a theme that I’m heavily invested in, and because of social, cultural, or economic advantages, their work becomes more popular and I’m written out of the discussion entirely. There’s no awareness of the importance of inspiration. Acknowledgment is a way of giving back.
It’s very important to understand how success in this industry works, and who we prefer when extending advantages to. Men (white men even more so) have a huge advantage when it comes to seeking investment, connections, et all, because that is just who we typically take serious. Don’t even get me started on how GDC is like for me v.s. how GDC is like for some of my bro friends. It’s necessary to understand privilege when discussing success.
A small example…
In a recent Twitter discussion, Panic (sorry about picking them as an example, but this is recent so…) said that they had a $0 dollar marketing budget when marketing their Playdate console. This led to people pointing out, in tweets, that you need to account for access, connections, popularity (your own fame), position in the industry… when talking about how something gets popularized or successful. Someone that already has a following will have an easier time being noticed, than someone else that has something absolutely brilliant to market but doesn’t have that momentum. Equally important is to recognize the disadvantages of not living in a country where you have access to industry events, and (for example) can’t afford to travel to the US. Some devs can’t afford to go to conferences because travel is out of their budget. These things all matter to make a success…
The discussion was very valuable, it’s worth reading.
I think talking about these things will help prevent other devs from having unrealistic expectation of themselves when starting out. Success is more than just persistence and having a “good game”.
The same thing needs to be talked about in terms of misogyny, internalized misogyny, and sexism. Men will, by default, be given easier access to things that others will not. You do have to account for things like prejudices. This strongly influences the way we look at work by women, and how we recognize that work.
For example, me winning a Nuovo Award is very different from a man winning one. I’m not exactly remembered as having won one, people act surprised or think I’m shitting them when I tell them. The year that I was IGF nominated for “Everything is going to be OK” I was even omitted from the shout outs of returning nominees, and I was a returning nominee (even won the year I was there). I realize I mentioned that before, and I don’t list these examples for pity or to be petty, I list these to make a case for how this works and who we tend to prefer.
Sexism, and other forms of discrimination, are a paralyzing issue among both devs and gamers.
Sometimes these biases can be subconscious, so it takes regular questioning of the culture we are in to change these things.
So when someone is inspired by my work, and doesn’t admit that when it comes to it, it puts me (and others like me) in difficult situations. Now when I pitch something that I have been doing for a long time (and has inspired other success) I will be told that my thing is unoriginal. This will happen outside of pitching too.
I’m not the only femme this happens to.
Men have an easier time admitting that men inspired them. I think often these biases are subconscious. We don’t really notice.
Doing so robs the person of their ability to be recognized for their work, and benefit from it.
It’s already extremely hard for women to be taken serious in environments where things get pitched. It’s extremely hard when you’re also required to legitimize your originality. You easily come across as lying about your importance.
DIY software is something I’ve been doing for a very long time. Internet and desktop themes are things I’ve been doing when people would tell me nobody wants to play that in a game, and I was laughed at.
If someone breaks that ground, and it inspires others to take on a theme, it would help everyone to admit that inspiration. This is how genres start. No one person starts a genre (no, serious, they don’t). Building on things together, as a group, makes things easier for everyone.
It would certainly make things easier for me when I go pitch my thing, or seek investment, because there’s a record of the value of my work. Like I said, it’s very hard for marginalized devs to be taken serious in these settings. Being told you’re unoriginal is an easy assessment to make.
Having an awareness of this cultural context, and these dynamics is very important. I would hope awareness is how we change things.
If you are a straight cis white guy, have a publisher, funding, and have connections it’s almost an obligation to admit where your influences come from so you don’t erase people from their own cultural contributions. Because certain people enjoy more success than others due to all these factors discussed (privilege), you have to be careful that you’re not paving over others that you were inspired by.
It’s very easy for women, POC, LGBTQA… anyone that’s not the default of who we take serious… to get entirely paved over, omitted from the discussion, and overlooked. It’s already difficult to exist in games as anything but a white man because gamer culture is so traditionally hostile to that. I think we would lose less people to that if we celebrated influences just as much as we celebrate the person that made the work. Nothing exists in a vacuum.
A touching reaction to my thread was this and honestly that would be the way to do it. Something as simple as that goes a very long way in making games a better space to function in.
Just publicly admitting your influences as part of the history of your game helps validate people, making it easier for less advantaged devs to enjoy opportunities from their accomplishments, and prevents erasure.
Like I said in my thread, I’m going to try to be more outgoing about my influences.
So many brilliant concepts, art, projects… happen because of the surrounding community a person is in. I think the “lone genius” myth does more harm than good when looking at the rich breadth of work that exists here.
In other news,
My Patreon lost some money this last month, and I have come to rely on it. If you are one of those guys that has told me any variation of “hold in there” or “keep it up” or “don’t give up”, now is your chance to put your money where your good intentions are and throw $1 at it. I would appreciate it, thank you.